Helping OEMs meet environmental responsibilities

14 July 2008

Consumers of electrical and electronic equipment are placing responsibility and expectation on manufacturers to supply products that have been produced in a way that has minimum impact on the environment.

The current landscape in the electronics sector sees distributors, who sit between the manufacturers and the OEMs in the supply chain, having a key role in this issue. In the case of distributors such as Farnell, the outreach and customer base is global. This market situation means that distributors need to employ good environmental practices and provide high levels of support to meet the requirements and expectations of their OEM customers.

In addition to making sure that its own suppliers have environmentally responsible practices, there are several facets to a distributor having an environmentally responsible operation that supports its OEM customers. Three key areas are packaging, local distribution hubs and environmental legislation support.

Packaging materials
Distributors store, pack and ship vast amounts of products, so the materials and processes used are a source of potentially major environmental impact. This is one of the most important areas to address and get right if a distributor is to have a credible, environmentally sound business that supports its customers’ aspirations in this area.

Considering bulk packaging, the most obvious first step is to use boxes manufactured from recyclable and recycled materials. Within the outer boxes, electronic components often need to be afforded a high degree of protection from physical damage. Taking Farnell’s Leeds distribution centre as an example, non-recyclable plastic void-fill materials have been replaced with an environmentally friendly alternative that uses a highly protective star configuration manufactured from recyclable paper from sustainable sources.

To support the use of the new packing materials, the company also invested in the latest high-speed packing machines. These machines convert the recyclable paper into the star configuration, offering further environmental benefits as they use less energy than the systems required to blow air into the plastic void-fill that was previously used.

Many types of electronic components are sensitive to static electricity and have a delicate construction that necessitates their transportation and storage in packaging that gives a high level of protection. Ideally, the packaging approaches chosen will also be environmentally friendly. An example of this is Farnell’s peel packaging for integrated circuits (ICs). Similar in appearance to the familiar blister packs used for pills and tablets, peel packaging places ICs within a protective, recyclable plastic cell that is sealed with an anti-static lid.

As well as delivering significant environmental pluses versus established methods for packing and shipping ICs, peel packaging benefits customers in providing clear labelling of the product contained, reduces the risk of damage from moisture ingress and static, and simplifies stock counting.

Local distribution hubs
A well co-ordinated logistics set-up combined with distribution centres in strategic geographical locations in different countries and regions helps to streamline and minimise transportation of product and reduce the impact of the overall supply chain on the environment. With road and air freight having a direct and high profile polluting effect, OEMs must look to distributors to minimise the impact of product transportation on the environment, just as a distributor would look to its suppliers to do the same.

Legislation and directives
Although RoHS legislation is now up and running, the furore surrounding legislation and the electronics industry has not subsided. With WEEE, EuP, REACH and a major review of RoHS and the batteries directive coming into play, there is plenty for the electronics industry to contemplate.

Tools such as Farnell’s dedicated Global Legislation website and step-by-step guides to REACH help achieve this. For OEMs the consequences of non-compliance can be catastrophic; affecting a company’s fundamental need to be able to sell products to its customers. By providing early visibility and a single source of information for support on legislation, distributors can help OEMs meet current legislative requirements and be better prepared for any future environmental commitments. Distributors had a key role to play in helping customers become RoHS compliant.

Kevin Yapp is Marketing Director, Farnell


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